I’m Max, natural health writer and herb enthusiast, and today I’ll be your guide to the fragrant world of terpenes - especially the terpenes found in hemp. Let’s dive straight in!
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are what make plants taste, smell, and look beautiful. Terpenes are naturally-occurring aromatic compounds found in some plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Terpenes are an essential part of a plant’s defense system - they attract beneficial pollinators with an alluring scent, or repel dangerous predators with a nasty stank. They are responsible for much of the healing goodness that herbs provide.
Terpenes are the main active ingredient in essential oils, and we’ve been using them for thousands of years in food, drink, medicine, and perfumes. Terpenes have many health-promoting effects on the human body, which have been studied in great detail by scientists. They are also commonly used in food and cosmetic products to improve the scent.
You’ve been smelling terpenes all your life; whenever you catch a hint of lavender in a bush, inhale aromatic essential oils in the bath, smell freshly squeezed oranges or breathe in chopped thyme and sage in the kitchen, you’re sensing terpenes. These everyday smells are familiar, but their potent effects on human health are less well known…
The Different Types of Terpene
So far more than 20,000 different terpenes have been discovered. Hemp is rich in terpenes, possessing over 120 with a variety of beneficial effects. To illustrate the variety of terpenes found in hemp, here are the most researched terpenes found in hemp (and other botanical organisms), and their health benefits:
- Caryophyllene is found in basil, cloves, and oregano. Caryophyllene possesses a spicy, woody flavor and scent, and is thought to help with muscle pain and insomnia. Caryophyllene is a unique terpene because it’s the only one known to interact directly with the endocannabinoid system, earning it the status of the first “dietary cannabinoid.” Caryophyllene has been proven to be effective for people with anxiety, colitis, depression, osteoarthritis, and neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.
- Humulene, with its woody/earthy smell, is found in basil, cloves, and hops, (and smells like hops). Humulene is known to suppress appetite and has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
- Limonene is responsible for the zesty scent of citrus fruits, including limes and oranges, and has a sour taste. Limonene has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is known to slow the growth of cancer cells, improve one’s mood, and alleviate anxiety and depression. The limonene found in hemp actually helps speed up the absorption of the other terpenes in hemp.
- Linalool is the terpene that gives lavender its enticing floral smell, and its taste is sweet. You’ll find it in birch trees, citrus fruits, and mint bushes. Because of its strong smell, linalool is used to scent detergents, lotions, soaps, shampoos, as well as cleaning products, insecticides and mosquito repellents. Linalool has traditionally been used to soothe the nerves, calm stress, depression and anxiety, and promote a restful night’s sleep.
- Myrcene is one of the most abundant terpenes found in nature, making up to 65% of the essential oils extracted from hemp, and is found in bay leaves, mangos, parsley, and thyme. Myrcene has an earthy aroma and is used to relieve inflammation, insomnia, and muscle cramps.
- Nerolidol has a subtle, earthy scent that’s present in ginger and jasmine. Nerolidol is used extensively in cosmetic and cleaning products as well as food flavoring. It is anticancer, antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant and antiparasitic, as well as an effective relaxant and sedative.
- Ocimene has a sweet, woody smell and is found in basil, mangoes, and mint . Ocimene has anticonvulsant (treats epileptic seizures), antifungal, and antitumor properties.
- Pinene - no prizes for guessing where you find this scentful terpene (but if you said “pine” then give yourself a handshake.) Pinene opens the bronchial tubes to enhance breathing, increases alertness and memory retention, and has been used to treat intestinal issues. You’ll also find pinene in Dr. Sebi-approved herbs basil and dill.
- Terpinolene has a mixture of scents, some suggest it’s a floral combination of citrus and pine. It’s present in apples, conifer trees, and tea trees. Terpinolene is interesting because it’s one of the least-commonly occurring terpenes and yet it does so much; as well as having antibacterial and antifungal powers, research suggests terpinolene can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and fight cancerous tumors, specifically brain tumors.
How Do Terpenes Work?
Terpenes can be taken three main ways:
This has a rapid, few-minute response when the terpenes enter the bloodstream via the digestive system and the mucous membranes of the mouth. We’ve been eating terpenes for as long as we’ve been eating fruits and vegetables, and it’s served us well.
Eating linalool (found in basil, blackcurrants, grapes, limes, oranges, oregano, and thyme) fortifies the liver against oxidative damage from harmful chemicals. On the other hand, eating myrcene (in thyme and mangoes) protects the digestive system against ulcers and other problems.
Terpenes digested in tandem with full-spectrum hemp oil enhances the entourage effect; for example, caryophyllene (basil, cloves, and oregano) works synergistically with the hemp oil to provide increased protection to digestive cells.
Terpenes that are inhaled travel from the sinus into the lungs and processed into the bloodstream for transportation around the body to wherever they’re needed. This has been an exceedingly popular way of consuming botanical terpenes throughout history. During this process, some terpenes are destroyed through combustion so their therapeutic effect is lessened.
Some terpenes can have an irritating effect when smoked. However, limonene (limes and oranges) and pinene (basil, dill, lime) actually reduce anxiety, and improve digestion and respiration when inhaled. Furthermore, inhaling limonene significantly reduces depression.
Terpenes may be applied directly to the body for treating skin conditions. History is littered with topical terpenes in the form of botanically-based oils, soap, lotions, and salves.
Limonene has recorded anti-cancer benefits when applied topically to breast cancer patients in the form of massage oil.
Thank You, Terpenes!
Terpenes have been working everyday miracles behind the scenes since the beginning. They’re the versatile organic components that do everything from benefiting cancer patients to busting depression to getting better sleep. Next time you inhale the sharp citrusy tang of an orange, or the earthy herbaceous aroma of basil, give credit where credit’s due and show some love to the terpenes.